[INSIGHT]We Abhor the Methods, Not the GoalsNewspaper companies must be the most checkered companies in the Republic of Korea. The Rhee Syngman administration closed a newspaper company by threatening it with a law established by the Japanese imperial government. When the military coup led by Major General Park Chung-hee overthrow the Chang Myon government in May 16, 1961, the soldiers broke into newspaper buildings with grenades in their hands. Afterwards, the government employed various measures to threaten and gag the newspaper companies. During President Chun Doo-hwan's rule, the government took a broadcasting company from its owner by force and laid off a large number of reporters. Advertisements in newspapers were suspended; the government dispatched officials and intelligence agents to watch over the newspaper companies, etc.
Korean newspaper companies have survived through this long tunnel of oppression. The tax probes must be the last card the government has up its sleeve to suppress the newspaper companies. Tax audits were not even used during the military dictatorship, but former President Kim Young-sam's government employed it. And at last the Kim Dae-jung administration recognizes the true value of the tax inquiry.
The ruling party said the tax probe was "routine business" done under normal conditions; however, it established many firsts for the book of records. It is the first time the government conducted an all-round tax audit on a particular industry, and the government levied a record-breaking amount of back taxes. The government invested the largest number of investigators ever employed in such an audit and spent a record amount of time, which extended beyond any similar operation. All possible measures were employed to maximize the tax penalty on the media companies.
And it is also striking that the prediction the tax probe was targeted toward the three major newspaper companies and that the broadcasting companies would be excluded hit the mark. One cannot help wondering how an investigation done under normal conditions could establish so many new records.
The ruling party never fails to say that it will achieve justice through taxation and press reforms. Let's accomplish justice through taxation and reform of the press. The press companies have no objection to that.
But the methods employed by the Kim Dae-jung administration for achieving justice through taxation and press reform cannot be automatically justified just because the purpose is righteous. A noble goal and ways to achieve that noble goal are two different things. Corruption is very common in Korea and in many parts of the nation the distinction between traditional customs and corruption is very obscure. Therefore, there is a saying that no one can engage in business if they follow the taxation act word by word. Also, a member of the supreme council of the ruling party said there is no one in Korea who has not violated tax laws and that even Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung have a shady past in dealing with political funds. It is natural that a tax probe into newspaper firms would find wrongdoings in their past business practices, especially taxes.
Following this argument it is not right for the government to say it will fight corruption and establish justice by selecting one hateful fellow in the newspaper business or opposition political circles for thorough investigation when corruption in taxation is so widely practiced in Korea.
Justice cannot be obtained by this method - investigating newspaper companies and opposition leaders just because they stand in the way could result in unjust and evil influences arising from the misuse of authority. The government must ask why the nation is in such an uproar over the newspaper tax inquiry. Many people are angry, saying the recent tax inquiry is politically motivated.
Various attempts by the authorities to control the press have failed over the last 50 years of our modern history. There has been much tension between the government and the press, but Koreans always put priority on freedom of the press. While the big three papers are under severe criticism at the moment, the greater number of Koreans still read them. Can it be said that readers are conservative and corrupt if they read the newspapers that are being criticized for being conservative and corrupt? Those who insult the newspapers may be insulting their readers, too.
The newspaper companies will overcome the current difficulties, as they always have done. Thanks to the tremendous pressure from the Kim Dae-jung administration, the newspapers will enhance transparency in management and their weak points will disappear. Through these trials, the newspapers will inevitably get much stronger. And the malfeasance of the government, conducting selective thorough investigations on the hateful ones, will disappear since the people will see the real intentions of the authorities seen in the media tax probe.
The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Song Chin-hyok